Published on April 22nd, 2019 | by Joshua S Hill0
China’s Solar Installations Down 46% In First Quarter
April 22nd, 2019 by Joshua S Hill
China’s National Renewable Energy Center announced last week that the country’s solar PV installations for the first quarter reached only 5.2 gigawatts (GW), down 46% over the same quarter a year earlier, highlighting the significant uncertainty that has plagued the Chinese solar industry over the last 10 months.
China’s solar industry has been the leading market for several years now, accounting for half of global solar demand and providing significant manufacturing capacity. However, ever since the Chinese government announced in April of 2018 that it would cap installations and reduce its solar Feed-in Tariff, the country’s solar industry has lost its strong footing.
We’ve already seen that the impact on global installations was not quite as impactful as originally feared by some analysts — with China still installing a strong total of 44.3 GW worth of solar in 2018, only 16% down on 2017’s record 52.83 GW. However, the lack of policy clarity and support has obviously taken its toll on the industry, resulting in first-quarter installations of only 5.2 GW — down 46% on the 9.65 GW it installed in the first quarter of 2018. And while China’s government has recently been laying the groundwork for 2019 policy certainty that will hopefully create stronger growth over the rest of the year, the months that have passed already this year are pushing such growth into the second half of the year, or early 2020.
This plays into recent analysis from the Asia Europe Clean Energy (Solar) Advisory (AECEA) which predicts China’s solar industry will transition over the next two years towards a subsidy-free solar market beginning in 2021 — a view also held by other analysts, such as Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“This signals a permanent policy shift towards zero-subsidy renewables,” explained Jonathan Luan, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance who spoke to me via email in January regarding the NEA’s plans to push the development of subsidy-free renewable energy projects. “Though the industry suspected it coming after the May 2018 announcement applying breaks to the subsidy flow, the new policy clearly steered the market to a new direction. The two-year policy window should stimulate new build. We are more inclined towards the optimistic scenario of our 34-44GW solar forecast for 2019.”
The AECEA also published a note last week in response to China’s National Renewable Energy Center (NREC) first-quarter figures which explains that “the share of newly built utility-scale [solar] projects is considered negligible.” Thus, “the bulk of installations are distributed [solar] PV projects.”
The dominance of distributed solar PV in the first quarter is supported in part by the consistent development of support policies by provincial, local, and city governments, and further allowed for by the absence of large-scale solar projects caused by the lack of national solar policies. Thus, according to the AECEA, “investors and developers alike have been reluctant to embark on new projects, in an attempt to avoid risks.”
The AECEA also confirms fears that China’s government won’t have final policies in place until the beginning or middle of June, thus delaying construction of new projects to the second half of the year. Despite this, however, the AECEA nevertheless holds to its original full-year guidance for China’s solar installations of between 35 GW to 40 GW.